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The Night Before Christmas

Nikolai A. Rimski-Korsakov 1844–1908

Opera in 4 acts
Libretto by the composer based on a story by Nikolai V. Gogol
First performed 1895, Mariinski Theater, St. Petersburg
Never performed in Frankfurt  before

Sung in Russian with German & English surtitles

Introduction (on video, in German) will appear here and on YouTube shortly before opening night

Christmas in Dikanka, a village in the Ukraine: villagers go from house to house singing songs to celebrate the birth of Christ, as they do every year, all except the blacksmith Wakula, who's down in the dumps because his love for the beautiful farmer's daughter Oksana is not returned. She says she will only marry him if he brings her the Tsarina's golden shoes. Desperate, he turns to the devil for help, who flies off to the capital city with him. The Tsarina gives Wakula her loveliest pair of shoes, so nothing now stands in the way of his marrying Oksana, who regrets being so ornery.

Rimsky-Korsakov combined a satirical-realistic description of Ukrainian village life with all kinds of fantastic and mythological elements in his Die Nacht vor Weihnachten / The Night Before Christmas. The cosmos in his grotesque, crazy opera includes hypocritical officials and dignitaries, witches, devils, spirits of the air and sun gods. He waited ten years before setting Gogol's story to music – out of respect for Tchaikovsky, who turned the work into Der Schmied Wakula / Wakula, the Blacksmith in 1974. He didn't start composing until after Tchaikovsky died in 1893: the score is full of quotations from Ukrainian folk songs – including the Koljadki songs the villagers sing, which intensify into polyphonic layers of sound. The composer makes the stars in the sky dance in fluorescent colours and Wakula's flight through the night air is almost cinematic. Christof Loy, back in Frankfurt after his wonderful evening of staged Tchaikovksy Lieder last season, directs Rimsky-Korsakov's far too seldom performed opera.